Oberlin Alumni Magazine: Summer 2001 Vol.97 No.1
Feature Stories
When Worlds Meet
Visions of Oberlin
Safety Man
[cover story] Caught in the Act
Round Robin Takes Flight
Message from the President
Around Tappan Square

When Worlds Meet
by Tom Pruiksma '98

continued from first page...

Lasting Effects
The lessons of a Shansi fellowship have a way of continuing well after the term is over, shaping the lives of former fellows in substantial ways.
Joseph Elder and his wife Joann, both '51, traveled to
Madurai the year the program in India began. He started the practice of writing letters back to Oberlin for distribution around campus that continues to this day. In 1953 Joe described his own departure from Madurai and asked himself, "Why had I come to India? What had I accomplished in Madurai? How did these years fit into any sort of life-career pattern?" His answers suggest that when people of differing cultures meet and work together, the possibility of cracking stereotypes and nurturing seeds of understanding opens. "Stereotypes may simplify thinking," he wrote, "but they do not simplify the building of a sane and peaceful world."

Joe's life is the best answer to his own question. Not only did he pursue an academic career--he is a professor of sociology and of languages and cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the director of the university's Center for South Asia; and the faculty coordinator for study-abroad programs in India and Nepal, but he also remains committed, as he puts it, to "looking at the United States with an international perspective."

Former fellows pursue careers in medicine, law, public health, public policy, and business. During her fellowship in Taigu, China, Barbara Sinkule '83 sat in on a seventh-grade botany class to observe teaching styles and learned Chinese in the process. Later she earned a PhD at Stanford, studying the implementation of industrial water-pollution control policies in the Pearl River Delta of China. In 1995 she wrote a book, Implementing Environmental Policies in China. Barbara worked in waste management at Los Alamos National Laboratory for several years and is now a technical staff member in the Safeguards Systems Group there.

Gretchen M. Engel '85, a fellow in Indonesia, is a lawyer for death-row prisoners in North Carolina. "One of the most important lessons I gained from going abroad was learning to appreciate and respect differences--a source of strength, yet also a challenge." This increased sensitivity, she said, made her cautious about making assumptions concerning the disenfranchised population with which she works. "My time in Indonesia helped me become more humble about what it means to help other people and more realistic about how one tries to do something good."

Common among the fellows, regardless of the country in which they served, was the creation of meaningful friendships. "The fellowship was not about accomplishing something that would be noted as great by someone else," said Charlotte Briggs '85, a member of the Shansi board of trustees. "It's about being changed by people and events that inspire you to live a deeper and more meaningful life after the fellowship is over."

In December, when I finally reached the airport in Chennai, I had a difficult time saying goodbye to my two closest friends. I couldn't find the words, the farewell, to reassure my return. But that day's sadness is a testament to what we were for each other. And that is the real reason for undertaking the work, for learning a new language and culture, for leaving home and feeling out-of-place, for listening, and sharing, and trusting. *

Tom Pruiksma is working on a series of creative essays and assisting his Tamil teacher, professor K.V. Ramakoti, write a book for students of
spoken Tamil and English.

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